Term first used in 1913 in a lecture, later published, by the Russian art critic Korney Chukovsky (1882–1969) in reference to a group of Russian avant-garde poets whose work was seen to relate to French Cubism and Italian Futurism; it was subsequently adopted by painters and is now used by art historians to refer to Russian art works of the period 1912–15 that combine aspects of both styles. Initially the term was applied to the work of the poets Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksey Kruchonykh, Velimir Khlebnikov, Benedikt Livshits (1886–1939) and Vasily Kamensky (1864–1961), who were grouped around the painter David Burlyuk. Their raucous poetry recitals, public clowning, painted faces and ridiculous clothes emulated the activities of the Italians and earned them the name of Russian Futurists. In poetic output, however, only Mayakovsky could be compared with the Italians; his poem ‘Along the Echoes of the City’, for example, which describes various street noises, is reminiscent of Luigi Russolo’s manifesto L’arte dei rumori (Milan, 1913).
Burlyuk was particularly interested in the stylistic devices of Cubist painting and frequently wrote and lectured on the subject. As a result, several of the poets tried to discover analogies between Cubism and their own poetry. Particularly important in this respect was the work of Khlebnikov and Kruchonykh. Their poems of 1913–14 ignored the rules of grammar and syntax, metre and rhyme; they omitted prepositions and punctuation, used half-words, neologisms, irregular word formations and unexpected images. For some, such as Livshits, who attempted merely ‘a cubist shaping of the verbal mass’, this approach was too radical. Others preferred to introduce more visual qualities. Kamensky, for instance, divided his sheet of paper with diagonal lines and filled the triangular sections with single words, part words, individual letters, numbers and signs, in a variety of typefaces, imitating the geometrical planes and letters of Analytical Cubism.
The term Cubo-Futurism was subsequently used by artists such as Lyubov’ Popova, whose stylistic development was indebted to both Cubism and Futurism. Her Portrait (1914–15; Athens, George Costakis priv. col.) includes the words ‘Cubo Futurismo’ as a conscious homage. Later art historians have used the term to categorize paintings and constructions by the Russian avant-garde in general, in which the influences of both Cubism and Futurism are synthesized. Popova’s most important work in this respect is Seated Figure (1914–15; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Mus.), in which the treatment of the body recalls the work of Léger and Metzinger. However, her use of cones and spirals and the dynamism of line and plane betray the influence of Futurism.
Notable Cubo-Futurist paintings by other artists include Malevich’s the Knife Grinder (1913; New Haven, CT, Yale U. A.G.) and Burlyuk’s the Siberian Fleet Sailor (1912; London, Grosvenor Gal.). The mosaic of planes in the former recalls Analytical Cubism, and the cylindrical treatment of the body suggests the work of Léger, but clear trajectories of movement and the subject of man and machine indicate the influence of Futurism. In the latter the head is depicted from different points of view and is integrated with the background by means of echoed arcs, a technique borrowed from Braque, while the dynamism of the diagonals that fracture the image is clearly Futurist.
Cubo-Futurism was a passing but important phase in Russian avant-garde painting and poetry. Mikhail Larionov, Natal’ya Goncharova, Alexandra Exter, Ol’ga Rozanova and Ivan Klyun also painted in this manner. It acted as a springboard for non-objectivity, with Popova and Malevich progressing to Suprematism and the poets Khlebnikov and Kruchonykh to an ‘abstract’ poetical language in which meaning was negated and only sounds were important. —Anthony Parton, From Grove Art Online